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A Look Back at 2016 Through Infobites

Working out the right visualization taking research, ideation, and experimentation.

Working out the right visualization taking research, ideation, and experimentation.

Edahn Small is the Creative Director at Hypothesis. Contact Edahn Small at esmall@hypothesisgroup.com.

We finally made it to the end of 2016! Many of us are relieved to see 2016 go, a year filled with tragedy, celebrity deaths, and political turmoil. Throughout the year, our design team, Gridspace, has been tracking the pivotal events of 2016. From the environment, to politics, to economics, we dug into the data to demystify some of the controversies that dominated this year's news cycles while still serving up our signature design.

Our efforts paid off. This year we won our first design award through HOW Magazine for our dataviz work and we have plans in 2017 to give talks through AIGA about infobites and how to make data visualization fun, engaging, and consumable.

With nearly 130 posts in 2016, we wondered what posts grabbed the most attention, what topics predominated, what goes into the perfect infobite, and what goes into the worst infobite. After a couple days of data gathering and analysis, we made some interesting discoveries.

 

INFOBITE ANALYSIS

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Looking back at our infobites tells us a lot about what this year was about, and without a doubt, the election dominated. About a quarter of all our posts this year were political, which is understandable given how polarizing this election was. National Days, such as National Camera Day, National Pancake Day, and even National Maritime Day (who knew?) were the second most popular topic. And sports, covering the controversial 2016 Olympics and some notable retirements, came in a close third. The most popular visualization type was a bar/column chart, and roughly one out of 10 posts features completely novel visualizations which we labeled "unique." Roughly a third of our posts this year were lightehearted (but informative!) which stayed true to our vision of creating an account that was both illuminating and entertaining. 

When it comes to our aesthetic preferences, it seems like blacks, neutrals, and blues are our preferred colors of choice. No one likes yellow, apparently.

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Our posts this year averaged a cool 20 likes. We nearly tripled our followers to 293, for which we say thanks to all our devoted followers! Now start commenting!

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We analyzed each attribute to determine which color, topic, and visualization type were the most liked by our followers. This led to a formula for the most successful and unsuccessful posts. Unsurprisingly, unique visualizations and snail charts were the most liked, and famous quotes and tragedy were the topics that were most appreciated. No more pink bubble charts about education, it seems.

Featured below are our most-liked posts of 2016, from left to right.

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I'd like to close off with a big thank you to all our amazing designers who poured their time into researching, refining, and designing the posts that light up our instagram account every week. Our instagram account is a personal source of pride for me, not just because of its uniqueness and novelty, but because educating and exciting people is what we do every day with our reports, and we've done that with our audience in a novel, fresh, and stylish way that is intrinsic to the Hypothesis ethos.

 

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GET THE BOOK

Finally, we're excited to announce that you can now order a booklet of all our award-winning infobites from 2016. Contact Edahn Small at esmall@hypothesisgroup.com for details.

 

Happy holidays and cheers to more great work in 2017!

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3 Tips for Communicating With Impact from our Workshop

Abilia Barraza is the Human Resources Director at Hypothesis. Contact her at abarraza@hypothesisgroup.com.

One of the distinguishing aspects of Hypothesis is how collaboratively we work together. When you have multiple departments (design, analytics, and project managers) housed under one roof, clear and respectful communication is critical. But it isn’t always easy. All of us regardless of industry have faced some challenges, whether communicating too softly, too harshly, or simply ineffectively. Those challenges extend beyond internal communications and include communications with clients and even with prospects.

For that reason, Hypothesis invited Emily Donahoe from Talk Shop to lead a workshop entitled “Communicating with Impact.” Emily has developed skills for executive presence, efficient messaging, and charismatic communication. Her clients have included, the Estée Lauder Companies, Saatchi & Saatchi, Goldman Sachs, Willis Towers Watson, Team One Advertising, the Women’s Campaign School of Yale University, Farmers Insurance and more. She’s also had clients appear on NBC’s The Today Show, BBC’s The World, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and much more. The workshop was offered as part of our ongoing professional development program that’s available to all our employees.

The training, which spanned 2 days in total, focused on building communication and presentation skills through live exposure. Each of us got up in front of the group to present a tricky situation encountered at work. Over the course of the workshop, Emily coached us on the best practices for communicating effectively and confidently. By the end of the workshop, not only did everyone feel more comfortable presenting to the group, but their points were more succinct and more impactful. Some of the key takeaways from the workshop were how to sound like an expert, the keys to charisma, and how to deal with difficult questions you may not know the answers to.

 

How to Sound Like an Expert

Credibility is the cornerstone of all effective communication. If clients don’t trust you, your presentation and everything you say will be questioned or even dismissed. One of the biggest mistakes we make when communicating is over-communicating. We tend to think that being exhaustive and covering every angle will demonstrate our competence and expertise, but the exact opposite is true: experts create a few important pre-planned points using the fewest words necessary. Emily did a great job of forcing us to trim our points and even our sentences into the most essential parts only. The difference in quality and credibility was immediately obvious.

 

The Keys to Charisma

Emily broke down the science of charisma into its components and had us practice different techniques to help build charisma like adding color to our messages through story, rhetoric, humor, and warmth. These techniques, when combined with credibility, not only made our communication more persuasive, but it made it more memorable as well.

 

Dealing with Difficult Questions

You’re in the middle of a high-stakes presentation and someone from the back asks you a really, really difficult question. Maybe it’s a hyper-technical question about a footnote in a whitepaper in a link in an email that’s still sitting in your inbox, or maybe it’s a question that’s so thoughtful and deep it made you question everything you knew to be true about consumer psychology. Whatever the nature of the question, we’ve all faced—or all will face—this situation at some point.

While we might be tempted to fake our way into an answer to maintain credibility, Emily said that the opposite is true. The best way to deal with difficult questions is by crediting the question and admitting you don’t know the answer, writing it down, and promising an answer within 24 hours. Paradoxically, admitting you don’t know something bolsters your credibility by showing that you’re not afraid to admit what you don’t know.

 

Armed with those tips and others, we're off to present and persuade! For more details about attending a Communicating with Impact workshop, please contact us. Thanks to Emily Donahoe for the amazing 2 day training session.

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Stakeholder Ideation: Bridging Insights and Action

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Stakeholder Ideation: Bridging Insights and Action

Jeff Seltzer is the Managing Partner at Hypothesis. Contact him at jseltzer@hypothesisgroup.com

Often, we'll include a relatively simple (but important) "homework" assignment for Ideation participants. This encourages participation, facilitates discussion, and helps level-set. In this case, participants each brought in an artifact to represent relevant consumer segments. 

Often, we'll include a relatively simple (but important) "homework" assignment for Ideation participants. This encourages participation, facilitates discussion, and helps level-set. In this case, participants each brought in an artifact to represent relevant consumer segments. 

Too often, market research is conducted, summarized, and then sits on a shelf. On the other hand, forward looking companies understand how to use consumer insights to inform decision making and move the needle. But, that process of creating momentum internally can be challenging. Cross-functional stakeholder ideation work-sessions can help.

In fact, I’m just back from Minneapolis, having conducted a great half-day ideation with 18 client-stakeholders. Like the most successful work-sessions, this one was held “off-campus” to help detach the participants from the typical work-related distractions, and help everyone to focus on the task at hand: bridging consumer insights and actionable concepts, strategies, and tactics. The session is grounded in consumer insights (we call them “Consumer Truths”) and participants are guided through a series of brainstorming exercises, group presentations, and voting to build, develop, and articulate new ideas. In this most recent case, participants created some really great in-aisle innovations that I’m sure you’ll be seeing relatively soon.

Sometimes, creativity means getting your hands a little dirty! 

Sometimes, creativity means getting your hands a little dirty! 

Interestingly, Hypothesis has conducted more ideations work-sessions this year than in the last several years combined including clients in the retail, technology, and entertainment. In each case, the Ideation session was done due to an understanding that for highly strategic projects, you cannot solely rely on the consumer voice for solutions. Indeed, the consumer can talk to you about problems and needs, but actual solutions are often beyond what’s reasonable to expect from consumers. Even if consumers can come up with solutions, they don’t necessarily consider important aspects like brand fit, alignment with business goals, or even what’s realistic. Marketing, Product Development, Finance, and Product Managers – they have the expertise to come up with solutions, but they should be based on the consumer voice. That’s what these ideations sessions are designed to do: develop new ideas grounded in consumer insights.

Ideation involves building on other's ideas. Here, one group evaluates another group's initial thinking before expanding on the concept with more details. 

Ideation involves building on other's ideas. Here, one group evaluates another group's initial thinking before expanding on the concept with more details. 

A key ground rule is "quantity over quality." At least, that's true in the beginning. But, at some point, you need to identify that best ideas to build upon. 

A key ground rule is "quantity over quality." At least, that's true in the beginning. But, at some point, you need to identify that best ideas to build upon. 

These sessions also provide other less tangible benefits, such as creating a sense of ownership among stakeholders for the research, and the ideas generated in the session. There’s also a strong sense of pride of accomplishment as participants work together through the process of creating new ideas. Besides that, it’s a fun and a rare chance for people to work together who don’t ordinarily work together (in fact, the best sessions often include people who you wouldn’t normally consider including, like a creative intern or smart administrative assistant). Lastly, it’s a chance to really let CI Team shine – participants are grateful and often leave with a new found appreciation for the hard work of consumer insights

I'd love to hear about your experiences with Ideation (good or bad). Or, let me know if you'd like more detail on our approach. Look forward to hearing from you. 

 

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Ask Dr. Ferreira: Derived Importance

Mauricio Ferreira leads the Advanced Marketing Sciences group at Hypothesis (the BrainTrust). Contact him at mferreira@hypothesisgroup.com.

Just the other day, discussing a plan with a client, the topic of a Derived Importance came up. The discussion made me realize that despite being a widely used technique in marketing research, derived importance is often misunderstood, especially the interpretation of its results. Here are answers to 3 of  the most frequently asked questions about derived importance we receive from clients.

"What is a Derived Importance analysis?"

Derived importance is essentially a statistical method used to understand what “drives” a variable of interest. For example, we may use it to understand what elements of a message drives interest in an ad or what service features can lead to satisfaction. The analysis helps marketers know what to prioritize and emphasize in product development, service improvements, or messaging.

The term "derived" means that the importance is extracted from the statistical relationships between metrics rather than by asking consumers directly. The derived measure of importance represents the partial contribution each driver makes in explaining or predicting the outcome.

 

"Why do we derive and not just ask people?"

We may be tempted to simply ask consumers directly what is important to them, but this approach often produces undifferentiated results. That's because respondents say everything is important (e.g., price is very important, quality is very important, etc.). Another problem is that consumers may place high importance on “price-of-entry” variables which is not useful when interpreting results. For example, not crashing is obviously very important for air travelers, but it’s probably not a useful marketing message for an airliner. Also, respondents might feel socially compelled to cite certain variables as important (e.g., safety) and others as less important (e.g., brand image), but we know that in reality, brand image might be a bigger determinant of choice in certain categories, like automobiles.

"Why isn't 24-hour customer service at the top of Derived Importance?"

Sometimes, a variable that seems like it should be important, comes out low on the results of a Derived Importance analysis. “How could this be? Are you saying 24-Hour Customer Service is not important? But, our customers always mention this in focus groups!”

That’s part of the power of a derived importance analysis. It’s not about identifying important variables per se, but rather variables that will move the needle. For example, 24-hour customer service may be important to consumers, but if all relevant brands offer it, then all brands would score high on it. In such a case, there will be no variation in responses between the attribute and outcome, and 24 hour customer service would actually fall low on the Derived Importance analysis – as it should, because emphasizing something that everyone does will not differentiate your brand.

(As a cautionary note, when we find an attribute rated low on the Derived Importance analysis, it doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked. It’s still important for an airliner to not crash!)

If you have more questions about a Derived Importance analysis, feel free to contact me directly at BrainTrust@hypothesisgroup.com. Also, if you have a question on another topic, please let me know! 

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3 New Product Must Haves: Learning from Apple Watch'S SHORTCOMINGS

JEFF SELTZER is the Managing Partner at Hypothesis. Contact Jeff at jseltzer@hypothesisgroup.com.

Earlier this year, I asked Ke, the newest (and easily the most fashionable) member of BrainTrust, about her Apple Watch: “So, how do you like it?” She responded lukewarmly, “It’s kind of, well, dumb.” That’s interesting. I noticed that no one else in the office had one – and this is an office full of early adopters and folks who love wearable tech (lots of Fitbits, for example). Then, I saw this article forecasting sluggish Apple Watch sales in 2016.

When considering the hundreds of new concepts Hypothesis has evaluated over the past 15 years, I’ve found that the most successful ones do at least one of these three things well:

  1. Solve a problem without creating new ones;
  2. Significantly improve upon what’s already available;
  3. Create a strong emotional connection–stronger than reason.

If a new product/service can’t do one of these three things from a consumer point of view, success will likely be elusive. In fact, I would argue that the Apple Watch fails on all three.

 

The Amazon Kindle truly solved a problem, but the Apple Watch? Not so much. Make sure your new product or idea actually solves for something. 

The Amazon Kindle truly solved a problem, but the Apple Watch? Not so much. Make sure your new product or idea actually solves for something. 

1.       Does the Apple Watch Solve a Problem for the consumer? No. 

The best new products and services do something seemingly obvious: they solve a consumer-perceived problem. They do so in an elegant, user-friendly, harmonious way.

The original iPod is a great example. Before the iPod, there was no way to easily take all your music with you. The same goes for Kindle and books. TiVo, GPS, BlueAppron.com – all solve a problem in a beautiful way without introducing new ones. But, the Apple Watch fails to significantly help consumers get over a barrier: you are still tethered to your phone, most of the health functions are available from companies that do it better, and the small screen of the Apple Watch arguably creates more problems. If the Apple Watch solves something, please let me know because I don’t see it.

(And, yes, I know, sometimes customers don’t even know they even have a problem in the first place. Apple’s Steve Jobs allegedly proclaimed, “We don’t do market research. Our goal is to design, develop, and bring to market good products… and we trust, as a consequence that people will like them.” Interestingly, on LinkedIn, a search within the Company “Apple” and Title “market research” turn up 500+ people.)

The DSLR dramatically improved our ability to take beautiful photos. It made cameras easier and better, and more accessible. Does the Apple Watch make something better? 

The DSLR dramatically improved our ability to take beautiful photos. It made cameras easier and better, and more accessible. Does the Apple Watch make something better? 

2.       Does the Apple Watch dramatically improve upon something already available? No. 

Not just incremental improvement but dramatic improvement. Reimagining something that’s been taken for granted, sometimes to the point of disruption.

An obvious example is Uber, which dramatically improved on the traditional taxi. The digital camera, LED lighting, Sonos Speakers, and Keurig coffee makers also qualify; they all took something we were used to, and dramatically improved upon its quality, convenience, and functionality. But, what about the Apple Watch? Is it a better than a real watch around the same price? A real watch is more convenient (doesn’t require charging), water proof, holds its value and sometimes appreciates, won’t become obsolete with a version 2.0, has no learning curve, comes “bug free,” and the only updates it ever needs is the occasional new battery. The design of a traditional watch is already beautiful and functional as it gives you the information you need quickly. The simplicity of the design is what makes it so sophisticated. The Apple Watch makes no meaningful improvements on the traditional watch and there’s no evidence watches even need improvement.  (Maybe it's not supposed to be compared to a real watch, but then don't call it a watch!)

3.       Does the Apple Watch create a strong emotional/visceral reaction beyond reason? No, not really. Not enough. 

This is perhaps the trickiest of the three criteria. Some products don’t necessarily solve a problem or dramatically improve on an existing idea, but rather connect with you in a way that says, “I’ve got to have it. I don’t care why!” I remember listing all the reasons I didn’t need my new Fuji Xpro2 digital rangefinder. In fact, the only thing in the plus column was, “I want it.” And, now I have it, and I'm happy. Luxury brands have the same kind of pull: Prada, Channel, Louis Vuitton, etc. 

Although many Apple products generate strong visceral connections, with fanboys lining up for the latest and greatest, this kind of reaction Apple Watch seemed limited in comparison, and short-lived. Perhaps that's because watches themselves are often purchased for personal, emotional reasons to begin with. In fact, some products are appealing simply because they are unique, and I would put watches in that category. For example, my colleague wears a vintage Rolex from her grandfather, not because it keeps better time, but because it's a unique conversation piece with sentimental value.  Indeed, a watch tells a short, personal story about who we are as in individual and, for that reason, I maintain that having the same watch as everyone else is quite unappealing. Regardless, the Apple Watch failed to clearly be an object of desire beyond reason. 

Not everyone has a Swiss Made Adriatica Watch. Google "Unique watches" and see how many things come up. Apple tried to offer ways to customize/personalize the Apple Watch, but that made little difference. 

Not everyone has a Swiss Made Adriatica Watch. Google "Unique watches" and see how many things come up. Apple tried to offer ways to customize/personalize the Apple Watch, but that made little difference. 

 

The Final Word. 

If your company is considering a new product or service, make sure that from a consumer standpoint it solves a problem, dramatically improves upon an existing idea, and/or creates a strong emotional/visceral pull. The only way to do that is to invite the consumer to the discussion as you develop your concept.  Otherwise you run the risk of creating something that no one needs, or wants.

Can you think of any services or products that don't meet one of the 3 requirements? How about other examples of products that have failed all 3? Leave a comment below.

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A Guide to Creating Beautiful Infographics

EDAHN SMALL is the Creative Director at Hypothesis. Contact Edahn at esmall@hypothesisgroup.com

Infographics have become a buzzword in research and information design circles. It seems like everyone's building them to help summarize information, and online tools are making it easier for non-designers to create their own infographics.

But as making infographics gets easier, maintaining their quality gets harder. I see lots of graphics that mean well but ultimately don't do justice to the information and look amateur. Part of the problem is in design mechanics like typography, layout, and color. The other part of the problem is more intellectual (or some might even say emotional)--dumping too many data points into an infographics either out of habit, out of fear, or sometimes just out of laziness. As we've said in previous blog posts, it takes more work to simplify things that to make them complex.

The tips below are meant to be easy rules-of-thumb to design better infographics. They're purposefully simplified to make them easy to follow, with tips like:. 

  • Use a Consistent Voice Throughout the Infographic
  • Don't Waste the Space You Have
  • Use Color to Draw Attention Purposefully

Each tip is accompanied by an illustrative infographic, because what better way to learn how to make great infographics that to look at great infographics! You can download a PDF version of the deck from here which has hyperlinks to all the individual infographics. If you're looking for even more information, check out my previous post on the Principles of Great Infographic Design.

In the end of the day, it takes talented designers and illustrators to make infographics really sizzle--infographics that you want to keep with you and reference over and over. That's when the real payoff happens. Contact us and let's discuss your next great infographic. 

 

 

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Hypothesis Infographic: Go Green to Breathe Clean

Indoor pollutants are found in the office and at home. They can cause a wide variety of serious respiratory and central nervous system problems. What to do? Plants have the answer with natural pollutant-fighting power. Which plants work the best to remove pollutants, and which pollutants are the most dangerous? Infographic research and design by Hypothesis.

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3 Tips for Presenting to Clients

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3 Tips for Presenting to Clients

JEFF SELTZER is the Managing Partner at Hypothesis. Contact Jeff at jseltzer@hypothesisgroup.com.

 

Strong presentation skills are critical for any well rounded research consultant. For most people, public speaking is not a comfortable thing. As Jerry Seinfeld put it:

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Maybe there are a few people out there born with the amazing ability to present, but most of us have to learn this skill. It’s easy enough to Google “good presentation skills” and find lots of tips like: use proper body language; speak with conviction and clarity; don’t rely on notes…and my personal favorites: use humor and have visual aids. All good stuff. However, when it comes to presenting research findings, I like to talk about some important skills beyond basic elocution. Recently, I gave a workshop on the subject. If you are interested in the full presentation, send me a message. In the meantime, here are thoughts/tips when it comes to high profile findings presentations:

 

1.       Understand Context.

Remember, the research is likely just one data stream and was not done in a vacuum. Before the presentation even starts, be sure to ask the client about the context of the meeting. No need to get sucked into all the politics, but it’s important to get a sense of the overall vibe you can expect. Ask questions like, “Who’s coming to the meeting?” or “how do you think the findings will be perceived?” or “ultimately, what are you hoping to accomplish with this meeting?” Understanding the overall context will help with tone and content.

2.       It’s not about you.

There’s no doubt about it: being asked to present to senior executives is an honor as it demonstrates trust. But, never forget, it’s not about you. In fact, chances are you are the least important person in the room. Stakeholders should walk away with a strong sense of the research, not a strong sense of you. Ultimately, you are there to represent the one constituent that’s not in the roomthe consumer. But, you are also a reflection of your client, and part of your job there is to make the client look great: for example, say “we” and not “I.” If someone says “great job” always acknowledge the client’s strong role in the process; and most importantly, don’t take credit for something that was done in partnership.

3.       Leave the tap dancing shoes at home. (“I’m not sure…let me get back to you.”)

It’s uncomfortable for everyone to watch a speaker trying to answer a question (or respond to a comment) for which the answer is not clearly known. My advice: if you don’t know the answer, don’t try. You don’t get points just for trying. Just stop. It’s okay. Remember, it’s not about you. Just calmly and confidently say, “Good question. I’m not exactly sure…can I get back to you on that?” Perfect. And, believe it or not, admitting you don’t know actually gives you more credibility than a half-answer. Live to fight another day!

 

So, hopefully keeping in mind the above well help you ace your next in-person findings presentation. Do you have any recent experiences in which the above helped, or would have helped? I’d love to know. Also, please share any of your own! Look forward to your comments.

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Introducing Infobites!

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Introducing Infobites!

Edahn Small 10097f for Web.jpg

EDAHN SMALL is the Creative Director at Hypothesis and the leader of the Gridspace Collective, the in-house design team at Hypothesis.. He and his team design reports, presentations, infographics, and print leave-behinds for the world's best brands.

 

What is an Infobite?

This week we launched our official Instagram page (@hypothesisgroup). Instead of a typical corporate instagram page, though, we wanted to do something unique that showcased our skills and personality. We also wanted to offer something of value that was original. Enter the Infobite.

The Infobite is a new species of shareable content created by Hypothesis. It's a hybrid of traditional infographics with small, shareable memes. We blended the data and design richness of modern infographics with the bite-sized portions of viral content. Infobites give users small, quick pieces of information, visualized beautifully by our design team.

The Infobite is geared towards today's mobile users. According to research by comScore, mobile users account for at least 60% of digital consumption on the web. Mobile users also prefer watching short-form content to long-form videos, according to ad platform FreeWheel. Keeping with this trend of smaller, snackable content, we created something that can be easily understood, enjoyed, and shared. The more shareable the content, the greater impact it can make.

 

6 Guidelines for Creating Your Own Infobites

We put together a few guidelines to help you make and share your own Infobites.

 

1. Have one strong focal point

If you have more than one focal point, the Infobite becomes an infographic and stops being easily consumable. One focal point ensures that users can quickly intuit the meaning.

 

2. Show a relationship or a surprising data point, but don't get too complicated

Avoid the temptation to layer too many numbers on the Infobite. Keep it simple and manageable, and think about what your audience is able to remember. Too many data points means your viewers won't be able to remember anything and worse, will avoid engaging with the content.

 

3. Make it obvious

The viewer should be able to capture the point of the Infobite in 5 seconds or less, preferably without reading any words.

 

4. Visualize the data in an interesting way

Visualizing the data in a creative, interesting way will help generate interest and motivate sharing.

 

5. Avoid clutter and "chartjunk"

Don't overdesign the Infobite. Edit ruthlessly and remove anything that doesn't need to be there for the point to get across. "Chartjunk" like gridlines and axes should be removed unless they're completely necessary.

 

 

6. Choose data that is reliable and sourced

Just as with infographics, always source your information in case someone needs to look it up or wants to do more research. On Instagram, for example, we source our material in the comments.

 

For more information, contact Edahn at esmall@hypothesisgroup.com.

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Convergence: The Next Big Trend in Retail

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Convergence: The Next Big Trend in Retail

The other night I was researching Tokyo in preparation for an upcoming trip and came across Salon &, a new designer hair salon, coffee stand, and gallery space about to open in Yutenji, a neighborhood in Meguro ward. Although not a familiar concept, I have to admit it made sense – the idea of a hair salon also being a coffee shop and an art gallery. (It made far more sense than eating BBQ in a zantai suit, which apparently is also a thing in Tokyo right now.) But seriously, after reading Salon &, I kept thinking about the concept of “&.”

Lately it seems everyone is seeking to be an “&,” suggesting a trend toward convergence. Convergence is a concept taken from biology, the tendency of animals and plants to evolve toward similar characteristics. There is a great RadioLab podcast which illustrates the concept using lightning bugs. In 1976, in the mangroves of Thailand, researchers observed lightning bugs blinking in silent unison and wondered how and why this happened. They took a sampling back to their hotel room, turned off the lights and waited. At first the lightning bugs lit randomly, then, out of all the chaos, a small faction began to light in unison, gradually growing until the entire group was synchronized.

In the chaos of our busier-than-ever, overstimulated lives perhaps we are gravitating toward trends that represent a similar idea. Call it convergence, a blurring of lines, or simply “&” thinking, we as a culture seem to be moving in this direction.

Consider gender, one of the simplest and most relatable illustrations of two discrete groups. This month, Selfridges, a leading department store in London, launched Agender, a gender neutral shopping environment that offers unisex styles and also did away with gender-specific mannequins in store windows. Designers such as Givenchy, Stella McCartney, and Hermès are including gender-neutral items in their collections and using the same models to show both male and female clothing. In our research with Millennials and Gen Z, we’re seeing a slight blurring of the gender lines both attitudinally and behaviorally as well, indicating less strict associations with one gender or the other, which ultimately translates into open-mindedness, creativity, and optimism for the future.

Consider retail. If you’re not omni-channel, you’re nowhere, I read this week. An omni-channel approach is really just another instance of worlds converging. Once upon a time there were brick-and-mortar stores and there were online stores. Now Amazon is delivering and Banana Republic offers Reserve in Store. This past November, NastyGal, a buzzworthy online-only retailer, opened its first brick-and-mortar on Melrose in LA – one of the first examples of a reverse strategy. A similarly curious case is LINE (an app which allows it’s billions of users to exchange texts, images, and video, and conduct free VoIP conversations and video conferences on digital), which  launched a pop-up shop in Times Square this past December. It is no longer enough to offer physical products in a store OR have a web presence – strategies are converging to offer all things, all ways, all the time. And rightfully so, because consumers are not only showrooming and webrooming, but everything in-between as well (and apparently expecting apps to sell them physical representations of virtual ideas).

Further evidence for the blurring of lines between an in-store and an online experience is the recent trend toward fastlining. Starbucks, Taco Bell, Chipotle and Subway have all introduced mobile order apps, that allow customers to order and pay remotely, just dropping in to pick up. Is this eat-in, takeaway, or drive-thru 2.0? You decide. And now, Starbucks is making news for potentially adding a delivery component to their mobile order app.

Convergence is happening in style and fashion as well. From runways to malls, casual styles and professional styles are melding. Casual attire and workout wear are crossing over. Women wear Lululemon leggings with boots to the office, Bloomingdale’s is selling high-heeled sneakers, and Club Monaco has suede basketball shorts on the front stage. Shoppers are demanding versatility from the items they buy to meet their busy, multi-dimensional lives – which means they need to be able to wear the same clothes to work and to dinner afterward. High-low, as popularized by Marissa Webb and Jenna Lyons is really just a blurring of the lines between discrete categories of clothing, is it not?

The tech category has been converging since phones became computers, computers became phones, and laptops became phablets. Instagram now does video and YouTube now offers streaming music.

Consider transportation. Not too long ago, choices for a ride were public transportation (shared) or a taxi (private). Then came Uber and Lyft. We are even seeing convergence within this category as Lyft recently began offering Lyft Line, a ride-sharing version of Lyft that feels like a perfect mash-up of a taxi and the bus.

There are examples of convergence in nearly every category. As consumers face an ever-increasing array of choices, channels, and options available at the tap of a screen, they feel the excitement of limitless possibilities, but also a sense of confusion and overwhelm. Brands are beginning to recognize this and create products and services that conglomerate offerings and meet multiple needs simultaneously, thus communicating to customers that they understand them and their lifestyle. The critical component however, is that the “&” offering absolutely must address a real consumer need and offer a compelling and clear consumer benefit. Converging two offerings becomes nothing more than a novelty unless it solves for an existing tension that exists as a result of having to choose between two competing sets of benefits.

Looking forward, convergence almost certainly represents a net positive for consumers as it offers increased convenience and empowerment and forces brands to think creatively about how to reconcile tensions with “&” thinking.

Who wouldn’t want coffee and art with their haircut?

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5 Ways Smaller Research Firms Do It Better

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5 Ways Smaller Research Firms Do It Better

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MARIA VALLIS is the Chief Relationship Officer at Hypothesis. Prior to coming to Hypothesis, she spent 14 years at Millward Brown. Contact Maria at mvallis@hypothesisgroup.com.

Over the last 20 years I’ve had the benefit of experiencing the market research industry from a variety of perspectives. I’ve worked on the client side; I’ve worked in extremely small firms (one had under 10 people); I’ve also worked in the world’s largest firm for 14 years on 2 continents. Then in 2014 I joined Hypothesis.

Someone asked me the other day how Hypothesis compares to working at a large-scale company with vast resources and trademarked research “solutions”. After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve concluded that there are some key advantages to working in a smaller firm.

 

1.       Fewer meetings. More time to think.

Clients come first here. I no longer have days where my calendar is booked back-to-back with meetings, or worse, full of meetings with only 15-20 minutes in between–not enough time to actually get anything of real value done. I have quality time to think and collaborate with colleagues during the day, and I’m available when clients call. The “thinking” work gets done first, not late in the evening after a long day of meetings.

 

2.       Every client is a big client.

Every client is important here. Our business is not carried by a few very large clients and their ongoing tracking studies that dominate the time and attention of our team. Instead we focus on custom-designed foundational research that’s strategic in nature. That kind of work requires a hands-on approach and the active involvement of our senior executives. In larger firms, those executives often remain isolated from strategic brainstorming, making strategic projects a rarity.

 

3.       No packaged “products” to sell.

We design studies to answer business questions; we are not constrained by a suite of off-the-shelf research “products.” Every brief we receive is unique and every day we are challenged to think about how to best answer those questions—creatively, quickly and cost-effectively. Having stock solutions has its advantages, being simple to execute and highly profitable, but as soon as a client’s question deviates from the standard question, the stock solution doesn’t work and the question needs to be altered or abandoned. A smaller firm means more flexibility and ability to investigate questions and invent solutions tailored to each project.

 

4.       The resources are right here.

All the brain power is right here in our office: the client service execs, the design team, and the analytics team. We don’t outsource critical thinking. We don’t fill out a form with a work order request for someone in another office, in another time zone, to interpret and then try to make a deck pretty or run analytics for a study they haven’t been involved in. We work side by side, collaborating from the very beginning of a project. That collaboration is rare in a large multinational firm, but it makes a world of difference when it comes to the quality of data and reports.

 

 5.       Everyone has a say.

The client service execs are not the only stars here. Client service, analytics, and design are all working in the same space and everyone’s ideas have value starting with how we design our studies. The analytics team helps us get to the right insights and the design team helps us turn those insights into a story that anyone can understand—we work as one team, in service of the client.

 

In the end, the smaller-firm environment has more collaboration, more flexibility, and less bureaucracy. We're better equipped to handle novel questions by generating novel solutions. We support each other and dig deep into questions as a team, each person sharing their expertise in real-time which helps the team resonate. The work is more challenging, but also more gratifying because we’re able to provide a service for our clients that bigger companies can’t. We deliver insights to our clients that only smaller firms can, in a way that only a smaller firm can deliver. That makes all the difference.

 

Have you worked in a large or small research company? Share your experience in the comments below.

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